Another new group of Buckeyes are about to officially become NFL players, so we’re taking a look back at the best highlights from their Ohio State careers in From the Shoe to the Show.
Ohio State is set to be one of the most well-represented schools in the NFL draft once again in 2020, with more than a dozen players who are expected to either be drafted or sign as undrafted free agents when this year’s draft is held later this month (April 23-25).
Damon Arnette is widely projected to be a second-round draft pick and the fourth Buckeye off the board this year, behind Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and J.K. Dobbins. Unlike Young, Okudah and Dobbins, who are all early entrants into the 2020 NFL draft after three seasons at Ohio State, Arnette spent a full five years in Columbus, redshirting his freshman year in 2015 before playing for each of the past four seasons.
From the Shoe to the Show
Also unlike Young, Okudah and Dobbins, Arnette wasn’t a top-ranked recruit who always appeared on track to be a star player. He played a lot, starting 38 games over the past three years, but didn’t consistently play up to his potential until finally, as a fifth-year senior, he put it all together and emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best cornerbacks, putting him in position to be an early-round draft pick.
Cornerback play is more about preventing big plays than making your own, so like Okudah, it’s more difficult to pick out single plays – though in Arnette’s case, one certainly stands out – to represent a player’s success. That said, we have gone back and picked out some of the big plays and moments that belong on Arnette’s highlight reel as he moves on from Ohio State and prepares to begin his pro career.
First career interception
The first of five interceptions in Arnette’s Ohio State career came in the eighth game of his redshirt freshman season in 2016, when the Buckeyes hosted Northwestern. After Raekwon McMillan tipped a pass from Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson, Arnette turned around and made an athletic play on the ball, securing it as he went down to the ground for a pick.
That takeaway, the only interception of Arnette’s first playing season as a Buckeye, helped Ohio State to a 24-20 win over Northwestern.
Almost his first pick-six
Arnette’s second interception of his Ohio State career nearly resulted in his first touchdown as a Buckeye.
Like his first interception, his second pick came on a tipped ball, as Nick Bosa tipped a pass attempt from UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers. Arnette adjusted to the ball’s changing flight, came forward to haul it in like a basketball rebound and ran the ball all the way back to UNLV’s 7-yard line before he was taken down.
That interception came as part of a 54-21 blowout win for the Buckeyes.
A two-takeaway game
Arnette had one of the biggest games of his career in Ohio State’s 48-3 rout of Michigan State in 2017, when he had two takeaways – a fumble recovery and an interception – along with another that should have been an interception in the second quarter alone.
The fumble recovery came first, when Tyquan Lewis knocked the ball out of a scrambling Brian Lewerke’s hands and Arnette scooped it up.
Later in the second quarter, Arnette outdueled Cam Chambers with perfect coverage on a 15-yard comeback to beat him back to the ball for an interception. That takeaway didn’t count due to a targeting against Dre’Mont Jones. He made up for it three plays later, when a miscommunication with a receiver sent a Lewerke pass straight to Arnette, and he agilely got both feet down in bounds while making the catch along the left sideline for an interception that did count.
Interception in Big Ten title game
Arnette intercepted Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson for the second time in his career in the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game.
Much like the first two interceptions of his Ohio State career, Arnette’s only interception of his redshirt junior season also came on a tip drill. Chase Young got his hand on Thorson’s arm as he threw, causing an off-angle throw that hit one of his offensive linemen’s helmets, and Arnette made a leaping play on the ball off the bounce for a takeaway.
Before that interception, Ohio State was clinging to a three-point lead over the Wildcats in the third quarter, but that turnover helped turn the tide in favor of the Buckeyes, who dominated the rest of the game to win 45-24.
A last-minute decision to return
Had Damon Arnette stuck with his original plan following the 2018 season, we would have been writing about the end of his Ohio State career and the start of his NFL career at this time last year. After the Buckeyes played in the Rose Bowl that year, Arnette said goodbye to his teammates and had planned to move out of his Columbus apartment the following week, with the intention of entering the 2019 NFL draft.
A phone call from Pro Football Hall of Famer and Ohio State great Cris Carter, however, convinced Arnette that he wasn’t ready for the next level. After meeting with then-new Ohio State secondary coach Jeff Hafley two days later, Arnette canceled his flight out of town and announced he would remain with the Buckeyes for his fifth-year senior season.
“He said, ‘Man, I don’t care what your NFL grade was, you’re not no All-American,’” Arnette recalled of his conversation with Carter last February. “He said that as I was on my way to Columbus to get the rest of my things to leave, and that just weighed really heavy on my heart, and he was right.”
By virtue of returning for one more year, Arnette gave himself the opportunity to improve as a player and improve his draft stock as a result, and that’s exactly what he did.
Pick-six for 96
Arnette’s improvement rapidly became evident in Ohio State’s third game of the 2019 season, when the fifth-year cornerback had his best game as a Buckeye, capped by one of the team's top plays of the entire year.
Arnette had already had an excellent game in Bloomington, breaking up three other passes (two of which were officially credited to him in the box score), when he broke in front of a pass by Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey at the 4-yard line, picked it off and then returned it all the way to the end zone for a 96-yard touchdown, the fourth-longest interception return in Ohio State history and the only touchdown of his Buckeye career.
“That’s the biggest play I’ve made in my life,” Arnette said a few days later of that interception return, which was the final dagger in a 51-10 win for Ohio State.
Forced fumble vs. Michigan State 2019
Two years after his two-takeaway game against the Spartans, Arnette forced another turnover against Michigan State at Ohio Stadium in 2019. This time around, it was Arnette who forced a fumble, stripping the ball out of Spartans wide receiver Cody White’s hands from around his back, enabling Malik Harrison to scoop up the ball for a Buckeye takeaway.
That forced turnover, which came just over two minutes into the game, set the tone for a game the Buckeyes would ultimately win 34-10.
An All-Big Ten season
Altogether, Arnette had an excellent senior season in which he shut down his opponents in coverage with far more consistency than he had in any previous season – according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed completions on just 10 of 36 passes thrown his way in single coverage last season, the lowest percentage (27.8%) among all cornerbacks in the draft – while remaining aggressive as a tackler, recording 35 total tackles.
That improved play – which he achieved even though he played the entire season with a cast on his right wrist – led to second-team All-Big Ten honors, the first team he received better than honorable mention recognition from the conference’s panels of coaches and media.
Had Arnette left Ohio State after the 2018 season, his collegiate career would have been remembered for his inconsistency, and he probably would have been a later-round draft pick who wasn’t ready for the NFL. In his final season as a Buckeye, though, Arnette demonstrated drastic improvement and admirable toughness which gave Ohio State fans reason to remember him fondly – and will pay off when he gets the call from an NFL team, likely much earlier than he would have last year, in just a couple weeks.